Tag Archives: music

The Nashville Scene

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At Douglas Corner Cafe

Music City is apparently the popular kid in class these days due to its unique combination of live music, yummy food, Southern hospitality, and distinctive attractions. The Grand Ole Opry is an experience all by itself. I was told that you never know what you will see at the Opry, and when NFL Hall-of-Famer Terry Bradshaw and NASCAR legend Darrell Waltrip took the stage to sing an Eagles song, I had to admit that I never saw that one coming.

It was good to see several old friends during my recent visit to Nashville like Caleb, Ken, the entire Walker family, and my old buddy, Jon, from Arkansas. Jon is an accomplished musician, and since he wasn’t touring I also had the special opportunity to see him in action at a singer-songwriter night at the Douglas Corner Café (pictured above).  It was great to see these friends, but due to a limited schedule I missed many other friends who now live in Nashville, too.

In fact, it is hard to know who lives there now since lots and lots of folks are moving to Nashville. I went for an early morning run and noticed the new and cramped residential construction and heard somber talk of sharp increases in housing costs and the terrible traffic accompanying such rapid growth. It is the next Atlanta, they say, and if the speaker is really in a bad mood, maybe it is a future L.A.

Nashville is a cool city, but the collective concern is that it might have become so cool that it will inevitably lose its special appeal. It seems that contentment is an elusive virtue, so it is hard to blame anyone. It is the human condition to take something good and then push for more until it isn’t so great anymore.

But personally and ironically, I don’t want to be content with the inability to be content.  Try that one out on your therapist.

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Life Soundtrack

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The Teragram Ballroom is an intimate concert venue a little off the beaten path in downtown Los Angeles that holds around six hundred people. My wife and I tracked it down Thursday night to see Princess, a Prince cover band, since my wife is a huge Prince fan (and since our friend, Karl, told me about the concert just in time for Mother’s Day shopping).

We arrived early, partly because that is a sickness of mine and partly to combat the oppressive Los Angeles traffic. We entered the venue ninety minutes before showtime only to discover that there is no seating in the Teragram Ballroom, so we found a spot at the edge of the stage and began our standing marathon.

It was worth it.  It was such a fun show.  Princess consists of Maya Rudolph of Saturday Night Live fame and Gretchen Lieberum, a singer-songwriter college friend of hers, so it was part great music and part hilarious. That Rudolph’s fellow SNL actor, Fred Armisen, unexpectedly was part of the band made it even better.

I don’t go to many concerts but happened to attend a couple lately and both were trips down memory lane. Both U2 and Prince music apparently produce large class reunions from the 1980s. I did not see kiosks for treating baldness, midlife crises, or fading eyesight at either concert, but those seem like missed opportunities.

What I did see were people reconnecting with thoughts and emotions from over thirty years ago that were important early chapters in what has now become life stories.  I was not immune.  I surely did not know what I was looking for in high school, but reconnecting with that U2 song made me consider how I have handled the journey in the intervening years. And I didn’t really go crazy in high school, but reconnecting with that Prince song made me reflect on whether I have made good use of this fleeting life since I first sang that fleeting life anthem along with him in 1984.

It was fitting that Maya Rudolph and her college buddy were on stage Thursday night.  They are us, the children of the 1980s, and we are all together at this interesting stage of life.  In this time of life reflection, it is a general rule that regrets and disappointment show up to say hello. So if I can call for one more class meeting, I simply have one question for my fellow students: Are we gonna let the elevator bring us down?  

I choose to punch a higher floor and start looking up.

Resolute (Or, 17 for ’17)

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I resolve to do the right thing even if it appears illogical.

I resolve to laugh more often and at inappropriate times.

I resolve to spend more time with people and less with screens and devices.

I resolve to see otherwise invisible people.

I resolve to spend more time with my eyes closed listening to good music.

I resolve not to listen to music when I’m driving.

I resolve to go for long runs in new places.

I resolve to spend more time outdoors in familiar places.

I resolve to try something new.

I resolve to treasure something old.

I resolve to feed my mind, body, and spirit healthy things.

I resolve not to give anyone or anything the power to choose my attitude.

I resolve to replace a noisy, busy life with a simple, smooth rhythm.

I resolve to read books and learn stuff.

I resolve to use my talents to make the world a better place.

I resolve to love my wife and daughters more than ever.

I resolve to live resolutely.

A Dream On My Mind

“Blues was my first love.  It was the first thing where I said, ‘Oh man, this is the stuff.’  It just sounded so raw and honest, gut-bucket honest.” – Carlos Santana

As American society is forced to observe its ongoing failure to achieve racial equality, and as the nation chugs Pepto Bismol straight from the bottle in anticipation of tonight’s first presidential debate, I find myself listening to the blues.  Part depression, but admittedly, part I like listening to the blues.  

The names of the blues artists are the best: Muddy Waters; Howlin’ Wolf; T-Bone Walker; Blind Lemon Jefferson; and Big Mama Thornton.  (I read a great suggestion for how to create your own blues name using Blind Lemon Jefferson as exemplar.  Start with a physical infirmity, add a fruit, and finish with the last name of a president.  I’m going with One-Eyed Apple Carter.)

And the titles/lyrics of the songs themselves are fantastic: My Starter Won’t Start This Morning.  Call Me Anything, But Call Me.  Cornbread Peas and Black Molasses.  My favorite line from B.B. King: “Nobody loves me but my mother.  And she could be jivin’ too.”  Or, this great section from Lonnie Mack’s Oreo Cookie Blues:

I hide ’em in a cabinet, I keep ’em in a jar
For emergencies you know I keep ’em in the
Glove compartment of my car.
And I can’t live without ’em
They git’ me higher than I can get on booze
I got them Oreo creme sandwich
Chocolate-covered crème-filled cookie blues.

But seriously, despite this troubled world of ours, what business does a pasty-white bozo living in Malibu with a blog about optimistic attitudes like me have listening to the blues?  Well, it could be that someone who feels the need to create a blog about optimistic attitudes may have an underlying issue or two.  And it could be that Santana was on to something and that I’m drawn to something raw and honest, which may be better stated by Wynton Marsalis who said, “Everything comes out in blues music: joy, pain, struggle.  Blues is affirmation with absolute elegance.”

That works for me.  The blues confronts the brutal facts of life elegantly.  On some level, personal, or societal, or whatever, we all have some brutal facts that need confronting, and I would like to do so with elegance, rhythm, and style.

Back in 1939, Big Bill Broonzy sang about dreams he had on his mind that just weren’t true when he woke up in the morning.  Dr. King spoke of such unrealized dreams a few decades later, too.  Today, as we continue to sing the blues, may we not stop dreaming.

“I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.    

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing

Well, I did it. On Saturday night, I sang a solo in public for the very first time. This caught me up to most of the world, so no grand accomplishment, but it sure was for me. Our church hosted a low- and at times off-key talent show to raise money for those of us traveling to Kenya this summer and somewhere between the expansive definition of “talent” and guilt for not doing much for the trip so far I decided that this was a fine time to break my forty-five year silence. I chose “Forever and Ever Amen” by Randy Travis, partly because I will love my wife forever and ever (amen) and partly because I have a bass voice and thought this song choice reduced the risk of total humiliation. My kind friend, Shelby, graciously agreed to accompany on guitar, and had she not, I totally would have chickened out.

My problem began in church at age six. I was sitting by my mother and belting out the chorus of a favorite song when a couple in the pew in front of us turned and gave me a dirty look as if to say, “Let us put this nicely—you are annoying the hell out of us, so shut up.” Setting aside the fact that annoying the hell out of someone is arguably a net spiritual benefit to the annoyed, I shut up. I shut up for a decade.

Fast forward to sophomore year of high school. While sitting in “chapel” at my small, Christian high school, I accidentally broke my sincere vow never to let anyone hear me sing and my friend, John Mark, said, “You have a good voice: Why don’t you sing more?” That one comment changed my world. Okay, I didn’t start a band or anything, but that one comment returned my voice, just like a single criticism took it away, and I started singing again, allowing my voice to blend into the music of the world.

It took another thirty years (I may be a slow learner), but two days ago, John Mark’s encouragement even allowed me to offer the world a song on my own.

You should never underestimate the power of a single act of criticism or encouragement.

Exquisite

[Note: I used to write a lot until, well, law school.  But, one year ago tonight, at the end of a long day, a moment happened in the law school that unleashed an intense desire to write about that particular moment.  That impromptu essay opened the door in my heart that with time became “Starting to Look Up.”  So, in honor of that moment, here is my essay from one year ago.]

The word exquisite doesn’t come to my mind very often.

It has been a long day, at the end of a long week. Our students are in final exams, and I feel about that weary, too. I made it to work around half past seven this morning and walked out around half past nine this evening. That isn’t normal, but it isn’t abnormal. Another long day.

But there were some great moments. I served on an important panel judging a Christmas cookie contest for our staff: public service at its most delicious. And tonight, I attended a swearing-in ceremony for our graduates who passed the bar exam. There may not be a happier occasion, and the celebratory hugs and high fives from such special people made my heart happy.

So it was a good, solid, long day.

But it came time to go home. I closed down my office, grabbed my work bags, and headed toward the exit with a weariness that comes with a fourteen-hour work day.

There was music as I walked toward the door.

The law school received a piano as a gift last year, and we have several talented pianists in our community who put it to good use, so this was not surprising. I noticed three first-year students standing on the second floor near the law school entrance, weary from a never-ending battle to learn the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, still at school at half past nine on a Friday evening. They were listening to the music that filled the three-story building emanating from the back corner of the first floor.

I joined their group to listen, too.

I am embarrassed not to know piano tunes. This one was lively and reminded me of a Scott Joplin sort of song. But I don’t know. I do know that the young pianist was into it, and soon, we were too.

Two other law students came out of the library, pulled to the railing by the music.

And we just listened. We all stood quietly, mesmerized, weary, but captivated, and listening.

It was really just a moment. The impromptu performance couldn’t have lasted more than a couple of minutes, but there was a moment somewhere therein, somewhere before the song’s rousing conclusion and the surprising ovation from the six-person audience up in the balcony. It may not have made an impression on anyone else, but it is now well after ten o’clock, and although I am still tired, I had to write about this moment because I don’t want to forget it.

It was exquisite.

Some moments are worth the trouble of life. And the one tonight, when the intense and elegant music of an artist captivated a group of stranded travelers on a Friday evening, qualifies in my book.

A Human Playlist

It is scandalous that one of the pressing issues of our time has not received an ounce of attention in presidential politics and that is the issue of whether or not to listen to music while running. There is a raging national debate on this topic, and by raging I mean an article in Runner’s World just over a year ago with the clever title, “Should You Listen to Music While Running?” It is possible you may have missed it.

There is the Purist camp that says to leave the music at home when you hit the road, arguing (a) safety, i.e., that Death Cab for Cutie should not become an appropriate title for the final chapter in your posthumously-written biography; and (b) that it is better to listen to your heart (h/t Roxette) than your tunes.

I am a Purist.

Then, there is the Overwhelming Majority camp that thinks we Purists are silly. The countervailing argument is motivation, both music-spurs-me-on motivation, and what-person-in-their-right-mind-runs-and-music-is-the-only-way-I-can-do-this motivation. These are obvious and compelling arguments.

I am obviously not compelled.

My Purist rationale goes beyond safety and becoming one with your body, but it is not that I am an Originalist, claiming that if God had wanted us to listen to music when we run that we would have been born with wires hanging out of our ears. Instead, I dream of a world where we at least occasionally say hello. Our mobile phones are terrible enough. I simply wish that at least we runners would look up and notice each other.

Once, I was running in Santa Monica and met a young woman rounding the corner running in the opposite direction. She had on an Arkansas Razorbacks t-shirt, my alma mater, which brought a huge smile to my face and an instinctive cheer of Go Hogs! So, first off, without context, this is a rather offensive thing to shout at a young female early on a Saturday morning. Further, since she was not a Purist, all she knew was that a tall/pale/skinny/bald/excited/middle-aged man raised his fist and shouted at her. My recollection is that her reaction resembled a terrified deer leaping over a fence.

I felt sort of terrible but concluded that if God wanted her to listen to music while she ran that she would have been born with wires hanging out of her ears.

I am pretty sure that we don’t look up and notice the stars enough. I am also pretty sure that we don’t reach down and touch the actual earth enough. But I know that more and more we are looking at or listening to a device instead of a fellow human being, and I think that is terrible.

Maybe the title of this blog is prophetic and we really will start to look up.